Kirsten Johnson

Director/ Cinematographer

Kirsten Johnson, Director/ Cinematographer

Classes taught:
Cinematography and Sound II

Kirsten Johnson has worked as both documentary cinematographer and director committing herself to human rights issues and visual creativity. She is the principal cinematographer on over 40 feature-length documentaries and has been credited on countless others. After graduating from Brown University in 1987 with a BA in Fine Arts and Literature she travelled to Senegal to study with acclaimed filmmakers Djibril Diop Mambety and Ousmane Sembene. The experience inspired her to apply to the French National Film School (La Femis), where she began to study cinematography. While in La Femis she began to shoot the documentary Derrida, with directors Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick the earliest of Johnson’s work to appear in Cameraperson. After graduating from La Femis she went on to shoot a number of highly-acclaimed and award-winning documentaries including “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” “Fahrenheit 9/11” “This Film is Not Yet Rated” and “The Invisible War.” She has a longstanding collaboration with Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, credited as cinematographer for “The Oath,” “Citizenfour,” the upcoming ""Asylum."" Additionally, she shot footage that appeared in Poitras' visual exhibition on surveillance, which opened at the Whitney Museum in spring 2016. In 2009 Johnson embarked on a directorial project documenting the lives of two teenagers in Afghanistan, the film was to be called “A Blind Eye.” After 3 years of shooting and cutting one of the teenagers retracted her permission to be featured and the film’s scope was reconsidered and structured around the footage that was shot, as well as footage from over 30 films Johnson had worked on over the years. Eventually this was edited into the film that became ""Cameraperson."" When not shooting she teaches the class in “Visual Thinking” at the NYU Graduate Journalism Department, a course in cinematography at SVA, and often leads workshops for young camerapeople and documentarians under the auspices of the Arab Art and Culture Fund in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

Faculty News view all

Application Info Session Jan 22
January 11, 2018

Application Info Session Jan 22

SocDoc is hosting an online info session ahead of our application deadline. Drop in to this online info session anytime from 3-6pm EST to have your questions answered – whether you have a query about the application process, or want more details on the program and department itself. Read More
Masterclass with Frederick Wiseman
January 11, 2018

Masterclass with Frederick Wiseman

We are thrilled to announce that we are hosting one of America’s best known documentary filmmakers, Frederick Wiseman, to give a masterclass for SVA students following the recent release of his 41st documentary Ex Libris – The New Yor Read More
Prospective Students: Attend Spring Process & Style Screenings
December 20, 2017

Prospective Students: Attend Spring Process & Style Screenings

If you're considering joining SVA's MFA Social Documentary Film program, we encourage you to come by for a tour of the department, and to sit in on our weekly screening series that comprise our Process & Style class on Thursday evenings. Read More
NEW! Two-Day Documentary Intensives
December 06, 2017

NEW! Two-Day Documentary Intensives

We are excited to announce that new this year, SocDoc is expanding our class offerings to include a couple of weekend-long workshops as well as a two-week summer session. These classes are all open to the public.

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